Was the Syrian Civil War Partly Caused by Climate Change?

Source: The Guardian, November 29

Prince CharlesPrince Charles, for one, seems to think so. “There is very good evidence indeed that one of the major reasons for this horror in Syria was a drought that lasted for about five or six years,” he told Sky News, adding that climate change is having a “huge impact” on conflict and terrorism.

The Prince is not alone on this one: he joins a chorus of voices making similar claims. In the US, President Obama, Al Gore, and the democratic presidential hopefuls Martin O’Malley and Bernie Sanders have all talked of a link between climate change and the Syria conflict, Sanders going so far as to argue that climate change is “directly related to the growth of terrorism.”

In the UK, the Syria connection has been drawn in government-commissioned reports and by leading NGOs, as well as by activists and commentators ranging from Charlotte Church to George Monbiot.

Having spent some time analyzing the evidence, we believe there is good reason to doubt the veracity of these claims. First, most of the public and policy discourse on the conflict implications of climate change is driven by politics, not science.

The earliest reports on the subject were not scientific studies but military-led attempts to dramatize the importance of climate change by linking it to security interests. And the recent outpouring of claims about Syria’s civil war is motivated by a similar attempt – in our view misguided – to “securitize” climate change ahead of the Paris summit. While some scientific studies do find that climate change has conflict and security implications, just as many disagree.


4 responses to “Was the Syrian Civil War Partly Caused by Climate Change?

  1. Although there may be disagreement on whether climate change leads to conflict there’s no doubt that when farmers can no longer grow crops because of drought, that unleashes a chain of bad consequences none of which are good for anyone.

  2. The drought caused an increase in Syria’s unemployed (and more desperate) to about 25%. The flood of farmers to the cities contributed to the protests against Assad. Iraq and the mistakes by almost all the foreign powers involved helped Assad bomb his own people (the US was ‘upset’) and fuelled the rise of ISIS. But, I suppose you could blame global warming.

  3. Productive land made useless through drought is an obvious cause of angry dissent by once viable food producers reduced to begging and starvation.
    Whether the drought is human-induced does not matter – if the people are starving they will resort to desperate measures.
    I don’t know if this leads directly to ISIS, but ISIS has often stated that it thrives on chaos and destruction that causes desperate people to adopt desperate measures.
    On a similar tack, I read once that the rise of Somali-led piracy followed the destruction of the local fishing industry after boats belonging to a major power sailed into Somali waters and cleaned out the fish stocks.